Of the 28 public comments received by the Idaho Department of Lands on a lease application by AT&T to build a 195-foot-tall communication tower on a site near Redfish Lake, 25 oppose the project, according to the department’s response to a public records request filed by the Idaho Conservation League.
Of the remaining letters, one is in favor and two express concerns.
According to AT&T’s application, the tower would be used primarily as part of the nationwide FirstNet emergency communications system.
The letters and emailed comments were released by the department to the ICL on May 14 in response to a public records request filed by the organization on May 6.
The comments were submitted by local governments, nonprofit organizations and individuals.
Those opposed include ICL, the Custer County commissioners, the Sawtooth Society, the Sawtooth Interpretive & Historical Association and the Custer Telephone Cooperative.
Though he did not state outright opposition, Stanley Mayor Stephen Botti expressed concern about the proposed lease on behalf of the city.
“The tower will be only 0.6 miles from State Highway 75 and 1.0 mile from the access road to Redfish Lake, making it a substantial visual impairment for thousands of tourists who visit Redfish Lake each year to enjoy its outstanding recreational opportunities,” Botti stated. “The economy of Stanley is heavily dependent on recreation and tourism, so any impairment to that experience is an important consideration to Stanley businesses and resident[s] alike.”
Botti’s letter states that “we strongly support the goals of the FirstNet system, however we would like to see more analysis and discussion of the tradeoffs between improved emergency response capability and impairment of the scenic and visual resource objectives that were mandated as a mission of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. ...”
Opposition to the proposed tower even came from Sawtooth Search and Rescue, a volunteer unit that works with the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.
“We recognize the need for improved communications for emergency services and first responders in the Sawtooth Valley, and we are very familiar with communications needs for [search and rescue] and EMS,” Co-Director Gary Gadwa stated. “However, we feel very strongly that the existing Custer Telephone tower meets or exceeds the desired Cell Phone coverage in the Sawtooth Wilderness. We do not believe that a 195’ tower, in one of the most scenic parts of the SNRA, is necessary.”
The lone comment in favor of the tower came from a Twin Falls resident who said the tower is needed for safety.
An advertisement to the public of an auction for the proposed lease was run in the Challis Messenger and on the Department of Land’s website for four weeks beginning Dec. 9. However, the department has noted that it has no legal obligation to seek public comments on proposed leases. Numerous commenters objected to that process.
ICL Central Idaho Conservation Associate Josh Johnson said Thursday that 62 people had sent emails through the organization’s website asking the Department of Lands “to withhold approval of this lease and find ways for the State of Idaho and the applicants to work together with the public and other agencies in the community to find a more appropriate solution.”
A Department of Lands spokeswoman said Thursday that the department is still in the process of drafting the lease.